Time to focus on garden friends and to check in with my allies, the worms.

"Virtually all of the world's fertile land has passed many times through the gut of earthworms"

Worm Towers

I installed the worms a couple of months ago in a diy attempt at a tray-system wormery – the construction of which I described here. The plan was for the worms to deal with the bulk of my kitchen waste, so I could leave the bokashi bins for the otherwise uncompostable (such as cooked waste, bones, dairy etc) and the (small) compost bin for garden waste. After enthusiastically over-feeding them when first installed, I’ve been trying to leave be and let the system settle.

Last night, it was time for an inspection, and all seems to be well. They don’t really seem to have increased in number but I guess that’s probably to be expected for a small system, and those that are there are fat – and fast as they whip away from the light.

From carrot tops and teabags to glorious mud

From carrot tops and teabags to glorious mud

That was good news, but more importantly, the bottom tray is already full of rich fertile ooze. I suppose the picture to the right might not be to everyone’s taste, but to my mind it’s a minor work of art crafted by some of the most useful creatures on earth, and it’s enormously satisfying to see food scraps converted into something that will go on to complete the cycle: producing next year’s food – and next year’s food scraps.

“Without the work of this humble creature, who knows nothing of the benefits he confers upon mankind, agriculture, as we know it, would be very difficult, if not wholly impossible”

“Without the work of this humble creature, who knows nothing of the benefits he confers upon mankind, agriculture, as we know it, would be very difficult, if not wholly impossible”

The first picture shows a fairly finished tray; the second one is a tray still in progress. It also shows as much of a worm as I could get in shot: they move so darned quick. You can also see a little of the bedding of torn up newspaper. (They’re lefty guardian readers; I’m still trying to teach them how to do the cryptic crossword). Anyway, this progress doesn’t seem bad at all for less than three months work, especially considering there’s always so much to do when one moves into a new place. I’m told that worms take a while to settle and get into the swing of it.

The tower system is also working really well. If you don’t look at the pictures above with the same relish that I do a tray system is the sort you need. Now the worms have finished in the bottom tray they’ve made their way up to the tray above where the fresh food is being added. I can simply remove the processed tray and empty it wherever I want to use it, whereas many of the systems with just one box need some reasonably time consuming and hands-on work to extract the good stuff, separate the worms and return them to the system.

My system needed to be fairly temporary as we’re renting, so I couldn’t dig up the garden even if there were enough room to do so. I also wanted to have it near the kitchen door. There are all sorts of materials that could be used to build this sort of thing, but I was keen to recycle what I already had. This constrained the design somewhat, but I was very satisfied to see this model costs £94.45 compared to my £0. It’s a bit prettier, but not £94.45 prettier. My roof garden was basically free too – filled with leftover plants and self-seeded nasturtiums I relocated. I’ve harvested a good stock of chamomile tea and lots of flowery salads from this roof and watering the plants occasionally helps keep the worms damp. And from what I’ve read many people with some of the well-known models have had problems with worms drowning (if they forget to open the tap regularly) or being lost (when they do open the tap and the worms all wash out). Try a coffee filter over a hole – works a treat.

Smug? Yes, a little. But really just pleased to know that homemade can do the job too.

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"Virtually all of the world's fertile land has passed many times through the gut of earthworms"

"Virtually all of the world's fertile land has passed many times through the gut of earthworms"

Worm Towers is a new-build project offering accommodation across three floors to an initial quarter kilogram of worms, situated in the borders of Kitchen Door and within easy reach of local composting facilities. This eco-friendly development is created entirely from reclaimed materials, and boasts a thriving roof-garden.

Worm Towers offers a significant expansion of local organic waste disposal capacity, with the additional benefit of the rapid generation of a nutritious growing medium.

Project components

(1) Blue delivery tray
Previous work: Supporting the transfer of goods from wholesaler to grocer.
Current position: Facilities support – Raise worm towers above ground level, allowing the operation of (2).

(2) Hummus pot
Previous work: storage of chickpea-based product.
Current position: Distribution executive – collection of nutritious worm fluids and transfer to plant-feeding delivery apparatus.

(3) Cafetiere filter (over drainage hole inside bottom tray)
Previous work: Sifting coffee; made redundant when company disbanded after industrial accident.*
Current position: Security – Facilitating exit of excess fluid while barring descent of stray residents.

(4) Polystyrene food delivery containers
Previous work: transporting mackerel from Cornwall to Frugilegus’ fridge, courtesy of veg-box scheme.**
Current work: Drainage tray, accommodation and catering floors, rooftop garden. It is hoped that the materials selected will help to keep worms cool in summer and stop them freezing to death in summer. Easy to install ventilation and elevator shafts (poke a hole of appropriate size in walls and between floors).

(5) Furnishing
Shredded newspaper presoaked in rain-water, handful of compost to help residents settle in, damp cardboard covering. Residents are then supplied with food-waste and the occasional portion of ground down eggshells as they dislike acidic conditions. For this reason, onions and citrus fruits are also avoided.

(6) Caretaker
Residents start life on the bottom floor, remaining there until they have filled it with poo. They will then continue their work on further floors. The caretaker of Worm Towers provides regular food and fresh bedding at a rate tailored to residents’ appetites and clears up after them, replacing cleaned floors at a higher level in the building for their continued use. Luckily the worm casts provide a fertile growing medium for use in the surrounding garden.

(7) Roof garden
The stark modernist design of Worm Towers may not to be everyone’s taste, but its impact on the landscape is softened by the fragrant flowering plants that adorn its top floor. While the plants require some watering in hot weather, any excess water is not wasted, as it drips through the building maintaining cool and damp conditions on lower floors.

* Yes, it was dropped

** I know, I know, I’m supposed to return them for re-use. But I forgot to put them out, and then stopped ordering after a succession of vegetable disappointments.